Google hires Kurzweil: A look at the returns

Google hires Kurzweil: A look at the returns

Summary: Hiring Ray Kurzweil will have implications far beyond the fun projects at Google. His machine learning knowhow could impact networks, data centers and algorithms too.


Google has brought on futurist and artificial intelligence expert Ray Kurzweil as director of engineering and there could be some real returns on the company's high-profile hire.

In a statement, Kurzweil confirmed that he'd be joining Google. He noted that his interest in reading technology, artificial intelligence, driving cars and those other things from the Jetsons lines up nicely with Google's efforts.

He said:

Google has demonstrated self-driving cars, and people are indeed asking questions of their Android phones. It’s easy to shrug our collective shoulders as if these technologies have always been around, but we’re really on a remarkable trajectory of quickening innovation, and Google is at the forefront of much of this development.

Will Kurzweil be more than just a figurehead? Probably. Google will get some returns on its investment in Kurzweil for sure. Here are some of the positive side effects from Google's latest hire.

  • Talent and recruiting engineers. There aren't enough engineers to keep tech giants like Google, Microsoft, Apple and others happy. Saying you report to a futurist---even indirectly---will have credibility beyond stock options for most engineers.
  • Data centers, networks and algorithms need machine learning. Kurzweil's ideas get noticed because he's ahead of the curve and he focuses on simple practical systems. However, machine learning has implications for the network, Google's algorithms and the data center. Look no further than IBM and Watson for examples of how machine learning can have broad implications. Should Kurzweil boost machine learning, Google is likely to be able to draw a straight line between its infrastructure and its high-profile hire.
  • Language processing has big mobile implications. Kurzweil's knowhow could on reading and talking machines could easily make its way into Android, which is already becoming very helpful on many fronts.
  • Google's buzz-o-meter. Kurzweil's work can easily be applied to the company's efforts for self-driving cars and its high-tech glasses that could become popular at some point. Kurzweil gives Google some science fiction becomes reality cred. The buzz is hard to measure, but it's certainly not a bad perk for the company.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Data Centers, Google, Networking

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  • This guy is one of the great geniuses of all time.

    Going back all the way to his ground-breaking musical synthesizers of the late 1970s, Kurzweil's brain has been busy inventing amazing things ever since. Truly incredible guy.

    The only thing I hope is that he remains a free-thinker inside the monolith that is Google.
  • laying the groundwork for skynet

    Before he was a futurist, he was a technologist. I have been familiar with Kurweil's work for decades and he is a tremendous innovator. The Singularity is Near" isn't just a paen to technology. He presents a huge amount of data on different trends, their convergence, and the possible impacts it will have on society. There is no shortage of people willing to slam his view of the singularity as "the geek rapture", but he is willing to explore new ideas and to give great thought to how different data trends will impact the future. It is great hire by Google.
  • credibility?

    Most engineers and scientists I know cringe at the stuff futurists say. And although Kurzweil has been successful at selling technologies, what major original contributions has he made?

    I don't think Kurzweil enhances the credibility of Google, or its ability to hire.
    • Contributions?

      cjk33 -- there's this thing called Google that is available on this network called The Internet and if you type in a name, say Ray Kurzweil, you will get your answer.

      Maybe I have an advantage because I worked in the beginnings of optical character recognition, synthetic speech, sound and music synthesis, artificial intelligence so I understand how important contributions there have moved us along. Wait, it gets better -- the guy knows how to commercialize these -- he founded companies so we chumps could use them and not just have him talk and write books about them.

      Hopefully more than just hiring -- doing.
      • What Kurzweil brings to the table

        I worked with Ray Kurzweil back in the 70's. What most people know is what he did with musical sythesizers. What most people don't know is what he did in the back room up in Cambridge. He built the first reading machine for the blind. This was a scanner that you put a book on the screen, and it read the book out loud for a blind person to be enlightened.
        Kurzweil has been creating state of the art ideas for decades. One of his original ideas, was to create a scanner with mini computer which read documents and created digital files for input into computer publishing systems. I bought his first unit. I was in the publishing business and was exposed to many geniuses in creation of advanced technologies. Kurzweil was famous for open ended creation of amazing products.
        How this works out for google is yet another story to be told later
    • yes, credibility.

      I'm one of those people who cringe when I hear some of Kurzweil's predictions. I happen to find many of them to be motivated by wishful thinking -- but as for his contributions to technology, the guy deserves most of the credit he gets; particularly in the field of accessibility technology (he invented, or helped to invent the screen-reader if I'm not mistaken.)

      I don't agree with his singularity beliefs, but Google isn't stupid. This is a pretty good hire for them.
    • cjk33, I agree. I would not think it "cool"...

      to report directly to a "futurist". I'm not even saying he is not innovative or that he does not have good ideas. I just don't think most engineering students are going to feel good about telling their friends they report to a futurist. that's all.
      Things will change and technology as we know it now will seem very archaic in the future, I think everyone agrees amazing things will happen, but even Not going to attract engineers.
      • I sure would

        I would jump at the chance to work for someone like Kurzweil.

        I don't always agree with everything he says, but I love pushing the boundaries of what is possible in ways that no one expected instead of writing another EBI system or something.
    • Being ahead of the curve makes people nervous.

      Most people slowly lose their mental agility as they get older and focus on one or a few areas of interest. Whatever their age, most people are sceptical and even uncomfortable when they hear people talking about "what could be" rather than "what is". Some people think the world is amazing, others think we're still living in a dark age. The irony is that everything we have that makes us modern is due to people who thought about what could be. Smart phones, women's equality, jet skis. (Not necessarily in order of importance). One man's "outlandish" is another man's "can't come soon enough".

      I've never heard of Kurzweil and it appears that is my loss. I've read enough sci fi and seen enough embarrassing Popular Science-style artist impressions to know how far from the mark futurism can be. Despite that, it's the futurists (and that includes sci fi authors) and the people they inspire who make the future that you, me and your friends will live in.
      John in Brisbane
  • I have a hard time

    seeing this guy working for somebody. Let's see how long it lasts.
    none none
  • No Shortage of Engineers

    There is no shortage of engineers -- only myths which large companies use to avoid hiring the vast supply of engineers available, who have been laid off out of the work force. And, no, I am not unemployed, but I've seen plenty of these lies.

    Most of these companies insist on "new college graduates" and won't even consider an engineer with a year or two of experience for a fresh-out position. Never mind an older experienced engineer who might be happy to get an entry level engineering position over going to work at Home Depot. But the myth is that "experienced engineers won't be happy with entry level money" or "experienced engineers are too inflexible". Both of which are a crock.

    The first one is clearly a crock on its face, yet how many times have you heard it? If an engineer, a person good with numbers and at choosing alternative solutions, is faced with taking an entry level engineering position or working at Home Depot, don't you think he'll take the former and be happy to get it?

    The second one is a crock because most engineers become better, more imaginative and more experienced (which feeds imagination) with age. It's a myth that young engineers are the creative creme.